Is it time to give up on tigers and pandas?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Controversial plans to save one species at expense of another are gathering pace

A majority of professional conservationists believe it is time to consider shifting efforts away from some of the world's most famous species, such as the panda, to concentrate on others which have a greater chance of success.

A survey of nearly 600 scientists involved in wildlife protection found that more than half agree with the idea of species "triage", where conservation efforts are concentrated on certain animals and plants that can be saved at the expense of species that are too difficult or costly to preserve in the wild.

The highly controversial idea has been discussed for several years among conservationists with little consensus, but it seems that there is now a growing appetite for taking it more seriously, given the scale of the extinction crisis facing the natural world in the coming century, as a result of loss of natural habitats, a growing human population and climate change.

The overwhelming majority of the 583 scientists who took part in the survey believe a serious loss of biological diversity is "likely, very likely or virtually certain". In that context, some 60 per cent of the respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the idea of triage – a medical term where limited resources are concentrated only on those individuals who can survive with some help.

"They argue it is time to move beyond outright rejection of triage. Results from my survey suggest that a shift in attitude may have already happened or that it always existed," said Dr Murray Rudd, an environmental economist at York University, who carried out the study published in the journal Conservation Biology. "The challenge in conservation is to know what's beyond help and what's not. In some cases, we don't know what the costs of species conservation are going to be," he added.

Many experts have rejected the idea of wildlife triage on the grounds that it is impossible – and perhaps immoral – to make judgements about one species at the expense of another, given the complexity of the ecological interactions in the natural world. However, others are starting to question the value of spending millions of pounds on one celebrated species, such as the panda, or a big predator such as the tiger, where loss of its habitat is almost inevitable.

"When considering conservation values and priorities the scientists said understanding interactions between people and nature was a priority for maintaining ecosystems. However, they largely rejected cultural or spiritual reasons as motivations for biological biodiversity. They also rejected human 'usefulness', suggesting many do not hold utilitarian views of ecosystem services," Dr Rudd said.

The Canadian government, for example, has poured millions of dollars into efforts to save the Atlantic salmon. However, there are questions about whether the money could have been better spent on other conservation projects, Dr Rudd said.

But one message is clear from the survey. Almost all of the professional conservationists interviewed said that species extinction is happening. "Given the perceived severity of loss of biological diversity, scientists may be willing to discuss potentially contentious conservation options," he said.

Dying out: Species losing fight for survival


In 1900, there were up to 100,000 tigers in India alone. Now, estimates of their global population range from just 3,062 to 5,066. India still has the most – about 1,700 – but with the country expected to overtake China as the most populous nation, pressure on dwindling tiger populations is intense. The false belief of Chinese herbalists that tiger products can cure a variety of ills means that poaching is still endemic and is organised by highly skilled criminal gangs.

Polar bear

Estimates of the polar bear population range from 20,000 to 25,000. But with Arctic sea ice melting at its current rate that number is expected to plummet by up to 30 per cent within 40 years. The bears rely on sea ice to reach their preferred meal – seals. As sea ice melts, bears starve and can come in contact with humans more, scavenging farther for food.

Atlantic salmon

Decades of overfishing has led to a plunge in Atlantic salmon populations, nowhere more spectacularly than off the east coast of Canada. Since the closure of Newfoundland's commercial fisheries in the early 1990s, Canada has invested millions of dollars in trying to bring stocks back up to pre-industrial levels, but the initiatives have had little success.

Giant panda

As an global symbol of endangered animals, it is no coincidence that the World Wildlife Fund chose the giant panda as its logo when it was formed. There are now just 2,500 mature pandas in the wild. China has spent millions on conservation, which has slowed the species' decline, but it has had only tentative success with captive breeding programmes.

Suggested Topics
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor